House Majority Leader
represents District 1 in southwest Arkansas.
Dear KDQN Friends:
I'm headed back up to the Capitol this morning in what looks to be the last week of the 2012 legislative session. We are very close to reaching agreements on all aspects of the state budget, which must be balanced by law.
By the end of last week, we had narrowed spending differences from $21 million to $3 million within our overall budget of $4.7 billion. We are now merely working for compromise on a dispute over some state agency spending.
One factor that made the negotiations difficult were differences of opinion over a basic premise of budgeting, a premise that is observed not only by government agencies but also by private sector businesses. That is the philosophy that it is unwise to use "one time" money to pay for ongoing operating expenses. I believe it sets a bad precedent to use "one time" money from the surplus to pay continuing expenses such as Medicaid expenses -- this approach merely serves as a band-aid.
This is the issue that is at the center of debate regarding the Medicaid budget for next year. Medicaid officials, who work for the Department of Human Services, predict a budget shortfall of more than $200 million in coming years. Medicaid's long term financial problems is a specter looming over this week's budget negotiations between the governor and the legislature. There is a group of legislators in favor of putting as much as $40 million of this year's state surplus into Medicaid. It may not be enough to prevent a budget shortfall within the next couple of years, but it would be a strong step toward solving the problem. A debate is currently taking place regarding a revamp of the entire Medicaid funding process in Arkansas.
Other Funding Debates
Other than Medicaid and a couple of minor issues, only minor tweaks are needed to balance this year's budget. Even with the continuing tax cuts to groceries, used cars, and utilities, we have spent the taxpayer's money judiciously enough that we are able to fund essential services only. The majority of appropriation bills approved during the fiscal session authorize state spending for Fiscal Year 2013. A few appropriations have been filed to fund agencies from now until the end of the current fiscal year. They include measures to pay $9 million to staff of state prisons for overtime pay that they have accumulated this year. Also, the appropriations would reimburse county jails about $2 million for housing inmates who should have been transferred to state prisons, but there was not sufficient space. A $3.4 million supplemental appropriation would use surplus to help the State Hospital comply with federal regulations. It is a facility in Little Rock for people with mental illness. We are also expected to pass legislation this week funding the state's 120 trial court assistants to prevent furloughs in that area.
Also at the Capitol last week, the filing period for the 2012 elections opened. I filed for re-election to the Senate, and the building was full of those filing for state, federal, and district offices.
The filing period opened on Thursday
Events in the District
Many events have taken place in the district over the past few months. Here are a few pictures:
De Queen Chamber of Commerce Banquet
Foreman Lady Gators Spaghetti Luncheon
Twin Cities Black History Month Banquet
Cerro Gordo Fire Department Cake Walk
I parked in Oklahoma and spoke in Arkansas at this event
As always, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent you in Little Rock. For real-time updates on Arkansas government and politics, just log on to my blog (www.underthedome.com). I update it daily with happenings at the Capitol. I also post update on Facebook, so feel free to friend me -- you can also follow me on Twitter (@steveharrelson). As always, don't hesitate to call or e-mail if I can be of service.
Sen. Steve Harrelson
District 21- Southwest Arkansas
State Capitol, Rm. 350
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201